Fiji zigaboo

Cohen, Gerald Leonard gcohen at UMR.EDU
Thu Mar 29 23:58:17 UTC 2007

     This is purely speculative, but here goes.  My student, Daniel Gill, has suggested that English "jitter" may derive from German (or Yiddish?) "zittern" = to tremble, and if this pans out, we'll see an instance of English "j" deriving  immigrant /ts/; The German letter "z" is of course almost always pronounced /ts/.
     If we now look for a /ts/ which would correspond to the /j/ of "jigaboo," we come across (thanks to Google) the name Tsigabu.  I assume this is an African name but beyond that know absolutely nothing about it.
    Still, if this name existed already in the early 20th century and came to the attention of one or more white Americans, they might have taken it to be typical of blacks from far-away places and applied it to the entire race.  
     Again, may I emphasize, this only speculation.
Gerald Cohen

From: American Dialect Society on behalf of Jonathan Lighter
Sent: Thu 3/29/2007 6:14 PM
Subject: Re: Fiji zigaboo

The HDAS files show a number of _zigaboos_ from the 1920s on as an exact synonym of "jigaboo."  The ex. are notably Southern, far more than "jigaboo." "Zigaboo" (occas. shortened to "zig") is no longer common.

  The alteration of  / J ~ z / has always stfruck me as unusual and interesting.  Does it suggest a / Z / in the etymon ?  In some dialect of Italian or another immigrant language ?


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